HERMISTON, Ore. — Whether it's business or pleasure, Rod McKenzie would rather be a leader than a follower.
McKenzie proved that in 1980 when he bought High Desert Marine, a boat dealership where he had served as a mechanic since 1969. "I told everybody it was job security," said the 61-year-old McKenzie of his career move. "Rather than having a new boss, I became the boss."
The Oregon angler has also displayed his leadership skills for the last three years as the Oregon B.A.S.S. Federation Nation (OBF) vice president and was instrumental in helping the town of Umatilla host Federation Nation Western Divisionals on the Columbia River in 2005 and 2006. McKenzie has belonged to the Federation Nation for 10 years, and he has fished many club tournaments.
A heart ailment has curtailed his fishing this past year, but McKenzie remains active in his state position and is a member of two Federation Nation clubs: Mid-Columbia Bass Anglers and the Blue Mountain Bass Club. He is also a past president of both clubs. "It's just as much fun now for me to be involved in the organization of these Federation Nation events and the administration of [the OBF]."
High Desert Marine has changed its product line since McKenzie took charge of the business. "We are no longer in the boat business. Now, we strictly sell tackle, ATVs, pickup tops and outboard motors," said McKenzie. "Getting out of the boat business has given us more money to put into fishing tackle, which is the direction we want to go to let my kids take this over and let me retire."
The store has a 6,000-square foot showroom that features mostly bass, walleye, salmon and steelhead tackle. High Desert Marine is a family operation that employs McKenzie's two daughters and a son-in-law. McKenzie still provides boat repair service, which is always busy thanks to the hazards of the Columbia River. "There is a lot of lower unit damage here because of the river fluctuation," said McKenzie.
High Desert Marine has supported the Federation Nation through the years by sponsoring the Mid-Columbia Bass Anglers and supplying a catch-and-release pontoon boat for state tournaments and the two divisionals. McKenzie also offers a 10 percent discount to all of his Federation Nation customers.
The back-to-back Western Divisionals at Umatilla were a definite boom to business for High Desert Marine. "It made every day of the week feel like our best day for the year," McKenzie grinned. "It was a tremendous increase through those tournaments and those practice periods."
McKenzie said he believes his business gains valuable exposure when it is involved in Federation Nation events such as the state championships and the Oregon B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Jamboree. This annual event draws numerous fishing organizations from throughout the Northwest that want to apply for Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife permits to hold tournaments or other fishing events in the state.
Supporting the Federation Nation has been rewarding for McKenzie's business, and he said he believes other tackle store owners could reap the same rewards by sponsoring the grass-roots organization.
"I have a long-term relationship with those guys," he cautioned. "The support I get from Federation Nation members from other states, such as California and Idaho, who call me and special-order tackle has been great."
McKenzie knows that he needs to do more than sponsor the Federation Nation to improve his customer base, though. "We are questioning here in the West why we are not seeing growth in the Federation Nation," he said. "We'd like to see growth, so we tell everyone we can about the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation and being involved in these local B.A.S.S. clubs."
As OBF vice president, McKenzie can be a leader in making that happen.